November 22, 2014

Tailoring Washington for 2013: A Hot Stove Preview

November 4, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Since Sandy blew out of town, the weather has been cold and windy. The stove has been cooking constantly, so it must be time to starting thinking about the 2013 Washington Nationals. They should improve on the best record in baseball without doing anything, but playing a pat hand is downright arrogant. Maybe they need a tuck here and a snip there. The right tailor with a good pair of scissors could make them as strong as any team. And with the added experience of their first playoff run—short though it may have been–they should be one of the heavy favorites for 2013.

Mike Rizzo’s budget in 2012 was $81 million, 19th among the 30 teams. Numerous key players like Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann and Tyler Clippard are arbitration eligible and whether the team signs them to long term deals or not, the payroll will rise. How much Rizzo has to spend on free agents and how much he will have to tailor his team to perfection remains to be seen. But for the past few seasons Washington has signed free agent pitchers like Jason Marquis and Edwin Jackson–billed as “innings eaters” or a veteran presence. Blech!! Enough already with marginal starters who eat innings among other things.

Truth be told, it has been an uphill climb to entice the best free agents to sign in Washington. But the time’s they are a changing.’ There’s “Good Eats” in Washington for 2013, so come on down. Let’s see some of that James Shields or maybe an Anibal Sanchez. Ain’t gonna be no sweeps in DC next year. We’re going all the way.

The rumor mills are touting the Nationals as the favorites to sign Michael Bourn. Much of that is because he is a Boras man, but does Bourn bring enough for the Nationals to make him their number one priority? I give it a big thumbs up. He is the best defensive center fielder in the game and according to Fangraphs it is not even close. Overall he is the second best in the NL. Bryce Harper is third, but what that really tells you is how strong an outfield of Bourn, Harper and Jason Werth will be defensively AND offensively.

Bourn is 30 years old and still has enough left to remain one of the best lead-off hitters in the game for several more years. He should  score close to 100 runs next season and steal 35+ bases. He supposedly wants a 5-year contract worth in excess of $100 million. How do the Nationals find that kind of money?

By non-tendering John Lannan—as painful as that may be—and saving the money they wasted once again on Wang. That nets $9 million, half of the money they will need. So sign him already and let the Philly fans boo the first TWO guys in the batting order—Bourn and Werth.

Everyone in DC wants to see Adam LaRoche back at first base and most experts expect the deal to get done. If that happens, then Michael Morse will likely join Josh Willingham as left fielders who could hit but were not ideal defensively. Morse could end up playing first base if LaRoche leaves and no one would cry foul, but LaRoche just won a Gold Glove and is worth the extra money if the Nats are serious about putting together a championship caliber team.

If the Nationals sign both Bourn and LaRoche, the Nationals lineup is as good as any in the National League: Bourn, Werth, Zimmerman, LaRoche, Harper, Desmond, Espinosa and Suzuki.

Then there is the cigarette burn left by Edwin Jackson. Sewing in the padding of another late inning reliever would be nice too and with the wealth of talent that Washington has left over after signing Bourn and LaRoche, there might be trades that could make it happen. First and foremost Michael Morse and his bargain basement $6.5 million salary that could fit at 1B, LF or DH should draw interest. There is an extra catcher, Jesus Flores most obviously, but maybe Wilson Ramos as well. Tyler Moore and Roger Bernadina would be tough to part with but could be used to augment a trade for the right player

The Nationals pulled off two trades with Billy Beane in 2012 and it might make sense to see what Mike Rizzo could do there. So forget that Tampa needs a catcher and the Nationals have quite a few, let’s look at the Oakland Athletics. Billy Beane has two things that the Nationals could use. He has Grant Balfour, a late inning specialist who could complement Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard. And the Athletics have as deep a rotation of young hurlers as the Rays and are more prone to dealing them.

Oakland can fill behind Balfour easily with Ryan Cook who can close and is $4 million cheaper than Balfour. This year’s Gio Gonzalez might be Brett Anderson who will make $5.5 million in 2013 and is coming off another injury plagued year. He is still only 25 and in the last two months of 2013 he looked like he is ready to pitch again, especially if you saw his start against the Tigers in the playoffs.

Morse might be a decent fit for the Athletics. There is more that Mike Rizzo could add to the pot. Steve Lombardozzi can play shortstop although his best position is second. The key for Beane would be shedding $10 million in salary and getting back something he needs in a veteran but affordable hitter like Morse. If Rizzo adds a player making the MLB minimum like Lombardozzi and another piece of some sort, it might be enough.

Whatever it takes to make it happen, a rotation of Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Anderson and Detwiler would be unquestionably the best in baseball. There would be no innings eaters, just young quality arms, with a few surgical scars for good measure. A bullpen with Storen, Balfour and Clippard at the back end would be equally as good.

It would be a different kind of Washington baseball team, one that would be a favorite immediately. It is the kind of team that would sell out Nationals Park before Peter Angelos could say boo, and maybe cost him a few million in annual television revenues for good measure. Now that would be a fine fitting suit to keep any Washington fan warm for months to come.

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